By Adele Chapline Smith | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Players familiar with the many previous titles in one of the most popular — and family-friendly — franchises in gaming history will find an interesting variation on its theme in “Pokemon Legends: Arceus” (Nintendo).
This action-adventure’s designers have scrapped much of the series’ standard mechanics, and the result is a refreshing makeover.
While this latest iteration of the long-running fantasy is free of any genuinely objectionable visual or verbal content, a significant aspect of the mythological backstory that underlies its narrative might prove confusing for impressionable youngsters. Teens and even preteens readily able to distinguish between fiction and reality, however, should have no difficulty in relegating this plot point to the former category.
Pokemon veterans may be surprised to find themselves in an open world where there are no battle gyms or championships — and no evil mastermind working to destroy all that is good and beautiful. Instead, the setting is the remote past and one of the central figures is Arceus, the original of all the petlike beings from which the franchise takes its title.
Arceus, though, is not just the primordial Pokemon. He’s also credited with creating all the other fantastical creatures who came after him, as well as with shaping the Sinnoh and Ransei regions featured in earlier releases (here, Sinnoh is still known by its original name, Hisui).
Arceus’ status as what certain schools of ancient thought might have termed a demiurge may remind Tolkien fans of the race known as the Vala. But the idea of anyone sharing in the exclusively divine prerogative of creation may be of concern to the parents of small fry.
Gamers’ ultimate goal is to discover why Arceus has sent them back into early history. More immediately, though, they join up with the Galaxy Team, a band dedicated to reassuring the human inhabitants of Hisui that the as-yet unfamiliar and untamed Pokemon — whose individual appearance ranges from cute to fearsome — can, in fact, be domesticated.
Players also explore the largely unsettled territory of Hisui. And they aid researcher Professor Laventon as he documents the habits of Pokemon and catalogues all the various forms they take.
Although there’s an obvious connection between the Galaxy Team and the villainous Team Galactic featured in 2006’s “Pokemon Diamond and Pearl,” gameplay here unfolds in an era long before the organization’s leadership grew corrupt and sought to destroy the universe. So its members are still the good guys.
Gamers are sometimes attacked by wild Pokemon. In other titles, this would automatically launch a battle. Now, players may black out if they don’t dispatch one of their tamed creatures to defend them in time. As a result, even the very restrained violence that characterizes other entries in the series has been toned down noticeably.
One of the major themes of the franchise, stewardship of the natural world, moreover, is once again front and center. Humans are called on to care both for Pokemon and for the whole environment — a congenial vocation gamers of faith will appreciate.
Playable on Nintendo Switch.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is E — everyone.
Smith reviews video games for Catholic News Service.